Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Special Issue of the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies out on Sustainability in Karst

Springs like this are one in Florida are one type of karst
 landscape feature.  Springs across Florida have seen an
increase in pollution--particularly nitrate.
Click for photo credit.
Mario Parise, from the National Research Council of Italy, and I were the guest editors of the special issue of the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies that just came out.  You can see the issue here.  The theme of the issue is on problems, management, human impacts, and sustainability in karst environments.  You can read our introduction to the issue here.  You can also read an article I wrote with my colleagues Phil and Kaya van Beynen about a karst sustainability index here that is part of the issue.

Karst landscapes, or the landscapes of limestone terrains, are among the most fragile on the planet.  They have few rivers or streams and most of the drainage is to the subsurface.  They are places with caves, sinkholes, springs, and other unique features.  They are prone to fast pollution problems, instability of the surface, and drought.

This issue came about from a special session we organized at  the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America a few years ago on the topic.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Big Thanks!

Manhattan from Sands Point, Long Island.  
This month, this blog is on track to have the greatest number of visitors in its existence.  A big thanks to all of you for stopping by.  I hope that you enjoy the blog.

To celebrate, I thought I would share some photos I took this month in my neighborhood.  I've been entirely too serious on the blog lately.

Most of my local readers know where I live--Port Washington, New York.  For those who are from outside of the New York area, I live in the land of Gatsby.  Sands Point and Port Washington are often considered the location(s) of where The Great Gatsby took place, although other communities in the North Shore of Long Island claim the genesis of the novel.

Regardless, it's a lovely area full of history.  It is on a glacial end moraine that makes up the hilly north shore of the island.  I live on Manhasset Isle, a small island off of Long Island.  Our island has some interesting old industrial areas.  It's where the first passenger plane took off to Europe (it was a sea plane) and there was quite a bit of industry associated with aviation.

Sunset on Manhasset Bay.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

Sunset on Manhasset Bay, low tide.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

Marina on Manhasset Bay.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Russia Bans Genetically Modified Corn Due to French Study

Click for photo credit.
Yesterday, I posted about a French long-term study that linked genetically modified corn to tumors in lab animals.  There is great international interest in this research due to the growth in the number of acres of genetically modified crops grown around the world.  In reaction to the study, Russia has banned one type of genetically modified corn.  You can read about it here.

It will be interesting to see what happens around the globe as a result of the French research.  As I noted in an earlier post, some European nations already ban genetically modified crops.  There are calls for the European Union to ban them within all European nations.  We don't have any bans or labeling requirements in the U.S.

Monsanto predictably is criticizing the science behind the study.  Russia, France, and the European Union are evaluating the merits of the research.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

European Study Shows Consumption of Genetically Modified Crops Leads to Tumors in Rats

One brand of genetically modified corn.
Click for photo credit.
This study from Food and Chemical Toxicology found that consumption of genetically modified corn (modified with herbicide) by lab animals leads to greater prevalence of tumors and cancers compared with a control group that was fed non-modified corn.  It is the first long-term study that I know of that links genetically modified food to health impacts in lab animals.  I urge you to read at least the abstract of the paper to see the impact of the food on the animals.

Genetically modified food sounds really wonderful upon first glance.  We can change the DNA of plants and animals to make them resistant to diseases or to have properties that give them a size or survival advantage.  In the case of the study above, the corn was genetically modified so that it is tolerant to an herbicide.  When the herbicide is applied to a field, the corn will survive, but other plants will not.

Many countries around the world have banned the use of genetically modified crops due to health concerns.  However, genetically modified foods are largely available in the United States and there is no requirement to label it as different from regular food crops.  It is estimated that 60-70% of processed foods we buy in a grocery store contain at least one genetically modified ingredient.  Many have called for banning the crops in the US, but there has not been any support in congress for such a ban.  The only way to ensure that you are not eating genetically modified food is to buy certified organic food.

Some have proposed labeling of genetically modified food at the Federal level, but due to the polarization of congress and the lack of support overall, nothing has move forward.  Some states have proposed requiring labeling, but none has enacted the plan.  However, California may be the first state to move forward with a labeling requirement.

This November, voters in California will vote on Proposition 37 which will require labeling of genetically modified food, prohibit misleading labeling using terms like "natural", and exempt some procurers of food (restaurants, etc.) from the labeling requirement.

Pollsters have found that the measure is widely supported, although the food industry is spending heavily to try to defeat the measure.

California often leads the way on environmental policy.  I think it is likely that we will see a national labeling strategy implemented in the next decade or two--particularly if more studies demonstrate the link between genetically modified food consumption and tumors.

To me, this is part of a broader issue.  Through the 1990's we did a relatively good job regulating the standard pollutants that were common on the landscape.  We had a handle on how to manage lead, PCBs, and other common pollutants.  However, over the last decade, our manufacturing processes have released an array of strange pollutants into the environment that are largely unregulated.  We have nanotechnology, rare earth elements, hormones, pharmaceuticals, and genetically modified organisms all around us.  Yet, we do not know how these will impact us or the environment into the future.  We have blindly embraced this brave new world of hi-tech chemical and genetic engineering without really understanding the long-term effects.  The wide use of genetically modified crops in this country is an example of our race into an unknown future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hofstra Students Go to the High Line

Some of my students.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

I took some of my Introduction to Sustainability and First Year Connections students to the High Line yesterday for a mini field trip.  Their job was to find things about the High Line that exemplified the new sustainability movement and to come up with suggestions as to how to improve the High Line for the new extension.

If you are not familiar with the High Line, it is a new popular elevated park in New York City built on the former rail bed of an industrial rail route that extends for about 20 blocks through the Meat Packing District to Chelsea.

Railroad tracks preserved on the High Line.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
The park kept the feel of the railroad in the design and incorporated many elements of the former railroad into the pathway.  The designers did a great job at incorporating historical preservation with the need to update the path for modern aesthetics and expectations.

Native plants are a major design element of the High Line.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
One of the best suggestions the students came up with was to better integrate the surrounding private buildings into the park.  What they meant was that the park has many elements of sustainability built into the design (native plants, waste containers, historic preservation, etc.), but that the approaches for entrance into the High Line were not really connected in the design.  Also, the surrounding buildings could be brought into a larger discussion around sustainability by providing rooftop runoff water for plantings or by  taking advantage of the native plant and post-industrial aesthetic of the park.  This would take a great deal of coordination, but given the popularity of the High Line, it might be possible to make inroads in this area.

There is a great deal of residential construction adjacent to the High
Line, demonstrating the power of parks and preservation in
economic development.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Even though the High Line has been open only for a few years, the neighborhood has been transformed by it.  New condominium developments are being built and residents who live in apartment buildings and owners of commercial buildings have put in interesting art that one can see on the path.  There are also new residential buildings under construction along the path--showing the power of preservation and parks in economic development and neighborhood revitalization.

Monday, September 24, 2012

NOAA Records Fourth Hottest August Ever

August temperature anomoly map from NOAA.
Click for photo credit.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their summary of August temperatures and they found that overall, the temperatures above land and sea were the fourth highest temperatures ever recorded for August and were 1.12 degrees above the 20th Century average.


But, we still have no coherent energy policy or greenhouse gas management policy in the United States.  All of the major climate change policy we have is driven by lawsuits that have used existing legislation (Clean Air Act in particular) to force limited policy on greenhouse gas emissions.  There has been an absence of leadership in the legislative or executive branch to develop a coherent climate policy since the early days of President Obama's administration.

In the mean time, dreary cloudy Germany gets 3% of its energy from solar energy (expected to grow to 25% by 2050) and 30% of its energy from renewable sources.  The U.S. gets 0.2% of its energy from solar and 4% from renewable sources.

Choices matter.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bronx Tiger Acts Like Tiger, Survives

A tiger cub at the Bronx Zoo.
Click for photo credit.
After living in Florida for many years, I was used to the strange stories about animal/human conflicts or tales of exotic animals escaping and surviving in the Everglades.  So you can understand if my ears perked up with this story about a man who jumped into a tiger pen at the Bronx Zoo on Friday.

According to a local NPR report I heard on the radio this morning, the man jumped into the tiger area from a moving train in order to "be one with the tiger."  I don't know if this was a suicide attempt or if he wanted to cuddle, but clearly there are some mental health issues.

The good news is that the man survived.  He had some broken bones from the jump and some lacerations and cuts from the bites of the tiger.  But, thankfully zoo keepers were alert and pulled the man out of the area alive and he is recovering in a hospital.  The tiger will not be put down.

This incident is an example of why I have never been a fan of zoos.  The animals are rather vulnerable to these types of incidents.  If the man would have died, the tiger would likely have been put to death--for being a tiger.

I know that zoos do all kinds of great education and research--they also help protect endangered species.  However, I just don't like to see the animals in cages and small areas where they are unhappy, vulnerable to disease and abuse, and outside of their habitat.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Alaskan Village Impacted by Climate Change Loses Again

The Alaskan Village of Kivalina.
Click for photo credit.

Imagine that you live in a small village on a tiny spit of land in the Arctic.  Throughout the winter and most of the fall and spring, your village is surrounded by sea ice.  In the summer, the ice melts and provides easy access to the sea during the warmer sunny months.  However, most of the year, cathedrals of ice surround your small village protecting it from the winter storms that careen through the cold dark Arctic.

Now imagine that the sea ice is suddenly gone from your village in the spring and fall.  The severe storms erode away the land damaging property and structures.  Living in the village is becoming impossible and you have to move due to the severe conditions.

That is exactly what has been happening to the people living in the village of Kivalina in Alaska.  The melting of the sea ice in the Arctic over the last decade has been well documented.  We’ve read about the dangers of sea level rise and the destruction of the polar bear habitat.  But we don’t usually consider the human cost to those living above the Arctic Circle.

The people of Kivalina have been suing a number of energy companies for property damages and the cost of relocation due to the role of energy emissions in global warming.  This lawsuit is one of the first of its kind.  Up until this lawsuit, litigants have used existing environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, or the Clean Water Act to address greenhouse gas pollution.  The Kivalina lawsuit is among the first to sue for property damages using civil law.

The case is very interesting in that it would set a precedent for requiring energy companies to pay for damages due to the use of their product.  The suit is similar to the tobacco company lawsuit in that the lawyers for Kivalina are claiming that the energy companies were selling a product known to cause damages.  They claim that the companies were aware that their products were harmful to the environment and that they suppressed this knowledge in a willful conspiracy. 

The conspiracy charge is the part of the case that is most fascinating to me.  The lawyers produced documents from energy company scientists that demonstrated that the leaders of some of companies recognized that greenhouse gases are producing global climate change.  The documents are similar to the those produced in the tobacco company lawsuits that demonstrated that internal documents recognized that smoking causes cancer.

Yet cigarettes are different from greenhouse gas emissions.  With rare exceptions, everyone in the world uses some form of carbon-based energy.  Thus, most of us use the products produced by energy companies.  Can the companies be responsible for selling a product we all use, even though we all know that product is dangerous?  Plus, when smoking cigarettes, there is a clear individual using a product with the individual using that product being damaged from it.  With greenhouse gas emissions, it is hard to make a connection.

Can there be a direct causal link between global warming and the specific parties that are being sued by Kivalina?  In addition, the U.S. global warming law is marginal at best.  The EPA just started regulating greenhouse gas emissions (note:  the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions was forced on the EPA by a Supreme Court decision Mass et al. vs. EPA) and the legislative framework for managing greenhouse gases is not well established. 

Because of these issues, the 9th District Court of appeals held up the opinion by the U.S. District Court that Kivalina doesn’t have standing to bring the case forward.  In reading both of the decisions (you can read the District Court’s decision here), it is clear that the courts recognize that the village is undergoing stress as a result of global warming, but that the damages are not judiciable due to the fact that they cannot prove clear causality between the energy companies they are suing and the damages they are experiencing.

I suspect that this case may end up in the Supreme Court. 

In the mean time, the village will continue to be buffeted by storms.

If you want to read more about greenhouse gas law, read the paper I wrote with my colleague, Sandra Garren here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On Deadlines

Working on deadlines is always productive, but requires
focus.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

There is something about a deadline that turns me into a working maniac.  I can have a project languish for months.  But, if someone gives me a deadline, and it is approaching, I focus like a laser on getting it done.  If I would have focused like a flashlight and not a laser earlier, the project might have been done weeks before.  It’s the deadline that does the trick for productivity.

I think it’s all those years in graduate school.

Most graduate classes are largely graded on a final big paper or project that is due at the end of the semester.  In the Fall Semester, one always knew that Thanksgiving was the time to get into hyperdrive to finish the work.  If it was the Spring Semester, Spring Break was the turning point.

I can plan around writing assignments all I want.  I can even write every day.  However, it’s deadlines that get me motivated to complete a project. 

Yes, I am working on a major deadline.  If you see me, I hope my laser like focus doesn’t do you serious harm.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Final Space Shuttle Trip Destroys Trees and a Neighborhood's Charm

Mature jacaranda trees, like the one in this photo,
will be removed from the streets of South Los
Angeles, thereby likely decreasing the value in the
neighborhood.  Click for photo credit.
The New York Times had an interesting article this morning about the final trip of the space shuttle Endeavor.  Some of you may have been following the saga of the space shuttle fleet.  The venerable spaceships are being mothballed in museums around the country.  One of the museums, the California Science Museum in Los Angeles, is to be the home of Endeavor.

This sounds great, right?

Not so fast.

Moving Endeavor from LAX to the museum is going to greatly impact low income neighborhoods of South Los Angeles.  Over 400 mature trees will be cut down and sidewalks and roadways will be modified to make way for the behemoth's final 12 mile trip.

Trees greatly improve the value of property and improve a variety of other factors in cities from air quality to safety.  The destruction of 400 mature trees and the modification of a neighborhood for one trip to a museum does not seem ethical in my mind.

If the trip were through Brentwood or Beverly Hills would the city or the museum blithely cut down the trees and destroy roadways and infrastructure?  It is only because it is through a struggling neighborhood that this is allowed to happen.  Robert Bullard wrote extensively about these types of environmental justice issues over the years and it is always surprising to me when such obvious events occur.

While the museum is planning to plant 4 trees for each one they destroy and while they plan to conduct repairs, I'll believe it when I see it.  Plus, urban tree planting has a very low survival rate.  How do you replace 400 trees and a modified infrastructure overnight?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Death of Russell Train, Environmental Locomotive

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Russell Train passed away recently.  He was not a well known figure in the environmental movement, but he was important.  He was the head of the Council on Environmental Quality under Nixon and was the head of the EPA under President Nixon and Ford.  These were important times for the Federal Government.  It was just getting into the environmental regulation business in a big way and Train was able to bring the political stakeholders together to forge agreements and develop regulation.  This era saw the development of some of the most important environmental law and rule making in the history of our nation.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trash Problem in Mobile Home Park

This story from the Tampa Bay Times is one of those, "only in Florida" stories you read about now and again.

Click for photo credit.
A mobile home park, falling on financial hard times, tried to evict tenants using "improper" eviction procedures, and the tenants resisted.  Many decided to stay.  The managers then decided to remove the park's garbage dumpster, presumably as a way to push residents out of the park.  Of course, this action led to a giant pile of trash that attracted all kinds of Florida's most unwelcome wildlife.

The owners of the park were cited several times and eventually, the City of New Port Richey had to clean up the mess due to the lack of response from the owners.  It was estimated that the cleanup produced the equivalent of 20 dumpsters of trash.

This event is an interesting intersection of suburban housing policy and environmental justice.  Many of the people living in the mobile home park had no where to go and no way to afford moving.  With the removal of the dumpster, the owners of the park created a public health and environmental issue for people who do not have the resources to manage the problems.  They felt betrayed because they paid fees to have the owners of the park manage the garbage.

The city's intervention clearly ended the crisis, but not the long-term problem of a poorly managed trailer park that caters to low-income people.

And the name of the Mobile Home Park? 

Waldon Pond.

Only in Florida.

Note, if you are one of my readers who does not understand the irony of this issue occurring in a park called Waldon Pond, please read this.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On 911 Memorials Permanent and Temporary

The 911 Memorial Lights from our backyard.
Photo by Mario Gomez.
 Of course, most of us remember the events of September 11, 2001, but since moving to the New York area, the sense of loss and remembrance around the anniversary are much stronger than they were in Florida.

Over the last two nights, we were able to see the memorial lights from lower Manhattan from our backyard.  Hofstra University had a formal memorial service and an interesting interactive memorial which allowed one to write a message on a ribbon, tie it to a flag, and place the flag within an outline map in a large open grassy area in the middle of campus.  My local community, Manorhaven, near Port Washington, dedicated a garden and bench in a ceremony last night.  The events I attended were very nice memorials.

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately over the actual memorial site in lower Manhattan.  See here and here.  My biggest critique of the memorial is that there is not general public access to the plaza.  One has to get tickets in advance and go through the equivalent of airport security to gain access to the site.  It feels somehow odd and uncomfortable to go through this to gain access to a place that memorializes freedom.  Once inside, one understands the genius of the design, but the memorial feels like it was designed to be accessed from multiple points, not a single security entrance point. There is no doubt that the site is a target, but I wonder how the memorial access could be rethought to make one feel more comfortable about visiting.  The Hofstra memorials and the Manorhaven memorials are quite a contrast.  While the memorial in lower Manhattan is really very special and spectacular, there is something a bit more natural and human about the Hofstra and Manorhaven memorials.

There are over 500 permanent September 11 memorials on Long Island.  Hofstra University Library has catalogued them here.
I really loved this map memorial at Hofstra.  Perhaps you can
identify Florida.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

A first responder and Iraqi war vet gave a speech at the Manorhaven
memorial dedication.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

The Mayor of Manorhaven (standing with hand on seated officer's shoulder)
 and Manorhaven Trustees with officers at the memorial dedication.

The 911 memorial with the controversial 911 Museum in the background.
Photo by Jody Gartzke.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

W.C. Fields, 1920's Stage and Screen Star, Arrested for Animal Cruelty in 1928

W.C. Fields with Mae West.  Click for photo credit.
Yesterday the New York Times published an interesting article about an animal cruelty case involving the noted 1920's and 30's stage and screen star W. C. Fields.  If you are not familiar with his work or stage style, you can watch the video below of a short he filmed called The Dentist.  His performance of this same routine on stage in New York led to his arrest.

He was a vaudeville star who used sight gags and innuendo to draw a laugh.  After his success on stage, he went to Hollywood where he became a major star (for my local Long readers, he lived in Kensington in Great Neck prior to moving to California).  He often played the lecherous drunk or hapless professional who hated kids.  According to the article, he used live birds in his act which he released during a comedy routine.  He hid the birds in his clothing and let them free during key moments of his performance.  The birds sometimes became confused and flew into scenery or lights.

He was arrested for cruelty to animals after one show by police tied to the Humane Society.

W.C. Fields was rather famous at the time and the trial ended up being a media sensation.  He was found not guilty of the charges and the judge criticized the police officers for arresting him.

Sometimes it's not the verdict that matters.  I wonder how this sensational story impacted the theater community in the late 1920's?  Did they realize that they needed to limit the use of animals in shows or treat them better?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Robert Moses, Randall's Island, Harlem, and the Triborough Bridge Authority

The Edward P. Bowman Park in Harlem.  This is a
pocket park with seating and vegetable gardens.  It was
built on a vacant property in 1994.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
 As my readers know, I've been reading The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro for the last several weeks.  Robert Moses is considered the architect behind much of the car-based infrastructure in New York and Long Island.  He built most of the parkways and interstates in the New York metro region, many of the bridges and tunnels that lead into Manhattan, and even several important New York City developments including Lincoln Center in Lincoln Square and the United Nations campus in the Turtle Bay area.

He was the City's Parks Commissioner for decades and was responsible for hundreds of parks in New York City.  One of the more interesting assertions in Caro's book is that Moses was a racist who built only one park in Harlem.  When confronted with this issue, Moses claimed that the vast parks of Randall's Island were within Harlem.

He got away with this response, even though that the island was really only accessible from the Triborough Bridge (now called the Robert Kennedy Bridge) by car.  While it was possible to walk there from Harlem, the park is not really a part of the Harlem community.  The open space on the island was used by upper East Side residents.
The Robert Moses Building under the Triborough
Bridge on Randall's Island.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to visit Harlem, Robert Moses' offices under the Triborough Bridge on Randall's Island, and the Randall's Island Park.    Today, access to Randall's Island is easier than it was in Moses' day.  However, the contrast with nearby Harlem is striking.

The cornerstone of the Moses building--the center of Moses' power
in the mid 20th century.  Moses used funds raised by Triborough
Bridge tolls to support a variety of projects in the New York area.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

A Randall's Island sports complex.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann

Big thanks to Mario, Randy, and Sophie for the fun day of tracking down
 parks in Harlem and finding Robert Moses'  office on Randall's Island.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Tornado Hits New York City

A small tornado hit the New York City area.  There were no injuries, but a little bit of damage.  As far as I've heard, it was more excitement than substance.  The video above shows a small waterspout coming onto land.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Green Design in Bay View Wisconsin

Bay View Wisconsin is just south of Milwaukee (seen in the distance).
Click for photo credit.
My friend Donna Genzmer sent me this link that describes the green renovation of a part of Bay View Wisconsin.  While the article's description of a key building is fascinating, the key to the success of the design was to make the downtown walkable and pedestrian friendly.  Across the country, most of the successful new developments take into consideration the scale of the individual and not the scale of the car.  People love having small commercial downtown districts with restaurants, shops, and amenities within walking distance of their homes.

But, we still have expansive areas of big box commercial districts surrounded by seas of parking lots.  There is no doubt that big box stores and strip malls are convenient.  But do you want to live next to one?  What type of business do you want to live next to?

There is an interesting tension that exists in the American commercial landscape.  We have two types of developments that are successful:  the pedestrian friendly place that is well designed and integrated around neighborhood housing and the big box districts that are well designed around the car, but not integrated into a livable neighborhood landscape.  Indeed, big box stores tend to be perceived as a negative attribute of a neighborhood.  We want them convenient, but not next to us.  Both can be built green (Wal-Mart stores, for example, utilize a variety of green technologies), but one requires a car for easy access.

We will likely see more developments like the one described from Bay View.  While we like the neighborhood commercial districts, the big box commercial districts will continue to expand unless we have a shift away from car culture--an unlikely scenario.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Devonian Extinctions Linked to Invasive Species

Devonian fossils hold the clues to past mass extinctions caused by
invasive species.  Click for photo credit.
Here's a link to a Science News article from 2010 that demonstrates that the late Devonian extinctions were, in part, caused by invasive species.  Local species that were adapted to local environmental conditions couldn't compete with species that had much broader ranges.  As a result, many organisms and ecosystems disappeared including coral reefs (they had a comeback 100 million years later), large fishes, and a variety of other marine organisms.

We are currently in an invasive species crisis (think of the python in the Everglades).  Almost every corner of the earth has organisms that are from some other corner.  They are taking the place of long established plants and animals uniquely adapted to particular ecosystems.  Many local organisms have become extinct.

There is no doubt that we are in a major extinction period with some extinctions caused by direct human action and some caused by indirect actions such as the proliferation of exotic plants and animals.  The larger question is whether the mass extinctions will lead to our own demise or whether we will end up like some of the long lasting species that have extensive ranges and adaptability.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

NOAA Habitat Restoration for Economic Development

My friends involved with economic development and natural assets may find this video of interest.  It is a promotional video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about how their efforts in habitat restoration lead to improved economic development.  A hat tip to my friends at Empire State Economic Development for the link.

China Limits Car Use in Guangzhou

Guangzhou.  Click for photo credit.
I found this New York Times article about Guangzhou's effort to limit the use of cars in the city fascinating.  China has notorious pollution problems and there has been serious unrest as a result of it.  Indeed, some of the most visible civil disobedience in China is the result of activists confronting the government and government owned industries over their role in local pollution problems. 

The new move is part of a broader change that seems to be happening across China as the environmental realities of their rapid development push start to manifest.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rachel Carson One Woman Show

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
I think of all the late 20th century environmental leaders, Rachel Carson is the one who most interests me.  She was an accidental environmentalist in many ways in that she never really expected her book, Silent Spring, to have the broad impact it had.  Indeed, she died before she could see its influence on American culture.

One could trace the US Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to Silent Spring.  Prior to the publication of that book, we didn't care that much about the impact of industrial pollution.  Now, we monitor and regulate most pollutants.  Although we have come a long way, there are hundreds of emerging pollutants (pharmaceuticals, nano-chemicals, and genetically modified materials) that are largely unregulated.  We don't know if we are on our way to a new silent spring.

I ran across this interesting Bill Moyer's piece about a one woman show on the life Rachel Carson by Kaiulani Lee.  The Moyer's piece is here and information about Kaiulani Lee is here.  For my teacher friends, the Moyer's piece would be a good out of class assignment.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cornell Cooperative Extension's Community Garden in Nassau County, New York

The Cornell Cooperative Extension recently opened up an organic community garden on Merrick Road in East Meadow near Hofstra University.  Here are some photos of the facility I took during a recent visit.  If you want more information about how to participate, you can find it here.

The gardens are located on Merrick Road, south of Hempstead Turnpike.  Sunflowers seem to be a popular plant in individual gardens.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

Extension staff offer soil testing and classes in this building on the grounds.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

There are a number of personal touches in individual gardens that have been rented for the season.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

The garden is so well designed and maintained that it's hard to imagine that it's only been open for one season.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

The garden is fully organic.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

There is a great deal of integrated planting in the garden.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann

Each individual garden is unique and it is fun to see how each person deigned their space.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Spaces for Serenity Photo Contest

This early morning view always sets me on a solid path.
Photo by Mario Gomez.
My friend and Hofstra colleague Debbi Honorof recently published a piece in Long Island Women about places for finding serentiy on Long Island.  The article highlights several interesting sites, many of which I didn't know about (which is shocking since I've been here a year already).  Here's a link to the piece.  I think you'll like it!  I know that I am looking forward to visiting the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Oyster Bay and some of the other locations she introduced me to in the article.

Fall is such a busy time of year.  The students come back to school, we put away the beach stuff, work picks up, and the weather starts to change.  When things get to be a bit too much, it's good to take some time out and return to those places that give you peace.

That's what this Fall's On the Brink contest is all about--Spaces for Serenity.  Send me up to 3 photos of your favorite place(s) where you find serenity.  They could be a place in your house, your yard, your neighborhood, or someplace where you find comfort away from your busy world.  I'll post the photos as they come in, but all entries have to be received by October 31.  Send your photo(s) to me at  The winner will get some Long Island honey!

Peace out!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses

I've been reading a book about Robert Moses and his impact on New York.  It is excellent (although long).  He was the brains behind the various parkways on Long Island and several other roadways and bridges across the New York metro region.  His projects were popular in the early days of the 20th century car culture and he amassed a great deal of power--some would say he was the most powerful person in the history of New York.  However, near the end of his career in the 1960's, popular opinion turned away from him.  The video below is a nice summary of how a community stopped a lower Manhattan expressway he was advocating near the end of his career.  I think I may show it in my class this semester or give it to them as an outside of class assignment.

Saturday Garden Blogging--Planting Fields Arboretum

I recently visited one of my favorite places on Long Island, Planting Fields Arboretum, to see the August blooms.  The site, which is a state historic park, consists of a mansion and grounds that were built in the early 20th century height of Long Island Gold Coast excess.  Now, the park is owned by the state of New York and we are really lucky to have such a beautiful place preserved.  I try to go once every two weeks in order to capture the range of seasons.  Here are some pictures that I took from my latest visit.

A lovely white and red malvaceae outside of Coe Hall, the preserved mansion on the grounds.

The paths and brickwork in the gardens are amazing.  The grounds were, in part, designed by noted landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead.

Each time I visit this garden, I'm reminded of the Amy Lowell poem, patterns.

So formal for a pool area!  1920's divine decadence I suppose.  I can almost see someone dressed in Erte stylings walking about.  

A little cottage hidden away on the grounds is surrounded by a lovely butterfly garden.

This assemblage of blooms screams August august to me.